Get your implant from your pharmacist: NHS to launch national pharmacy contraception service


Pharmacists will be able to fit women with implants under NHS plans to ease pressure on GPs.

The reforms to contraception access will also mean that pharmacists will be able to prescribe the pill. 

The first part of the scheme will begin in the coming weeks, with a wider roll-out for England expected later this year. 

It is part of the wider drive to ease pressure on GPs, with pharmacists already given powers to issue sick notes.

Experts hope the reforms, which are still being negotiated with unions, will free up an additional 2million GP appointments each year.

Women can now have their annual pill checks at pharmacies, and plans are in place to introduce implant and injectable contraceptive checks Women can now have their annual pill checks at pharmacies, and plans are in place to introduce implant and injectable contraceptive checks

Women can now have their annual pill checks at pharmacies, and plans are in place to introduce implant and injectable contraceptive checks 

Pharmacists are currently permitted to dispense contraceptive pills and offer advice on different types of contraception.

But they cannot prescribe or fit contraceptives.

IT issues have delayed the first stage of the national contraception service, sources claim.

The second phase of the scheme, pencilled in for October following a successful trial, will allow pharmacists to prescribe the Pill.

Under the final two parts of the project, NHS chiefs want to give pharmacists powers to dish out long-acting reversible contraceptives.

Q+A: Everything you need to know about the new pharmacy service   

What does the service involve?

A contraceptive pill check with a pharmacist instead of a GP at least once a year. 

Under tier one of the scheme, this allows pharmacists to check a patient’s weight, height and blood pressure and make sure they are not experiencing any dangerous side effects, such as clotting and migraines. 

Pharmacists will continue dispensing the pill. 

How will the service expand?  

Tier 2: Pharmacists will be given the power to prescribe the pill to anyone wishing to begin taking it. 

Tier 3: Monitoring and managing the dispensing of repeat long-acting reversible contraception (LARC).

LARCs includes implants — a small plastic rod placed into the upper arm that prevents pregnancy for three years.

But intrauterine systems (IUS) and intrauterine devices (IUDs), which are small T-shaped devices put into the womb — usually by a doctor or nurse, won’t be offered. 

Tier 4: Pharmacists initiating LARCs themselves.

When will it launch?

It is set to begin this spring 2023. 

The service had been expected to roll out nationally from January 11, however issues with developing appropriate IT to deliver the service had delayed the health service’s plan. 

This would include implants — a small plastic rod placed into the upper arm which prevents pregnancy for three years — and injections.

But it excludes intrauterine systems (IUS) and intrauterine devices (IUDs), which are small T-shaped devices put into the womb — usually by a doctor or nurse.

Yet no time-plan has officially been announced for this stage. Neither tier three or four has been trialed yet.

The move comes as the Government is preparing to publish its Primary Care Recovery Plan.

It is expected to detail how ministers will tackle record low levels of public satisfaction with GP surgeries, which have left patients struggling to secure face-to-face appointments.

It is also likely to involve handing over more powers to pharmacists, with people encouraged to seek help from their local pharmacist for minor ailments.

Former shadow women and equalities secretary, Taiwo Owatemi, who sits on the health and social care Committee and is chairman of the all-party pharmacy group, told MailOnline the service was a ‘welcome step’.

She said: ‘I know it will be a vital lifeline for women across the UK who need easily accessible contraceptive care in their communities.

‘It will break down important hurdles women face having to speak to a doctor and instead will place care in their own hands.’

Meanwhile, Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the Company Chemists’ Association, which represents large pharmacy operators such as Boots, said: ‘The pharmacy contraception service is further recognition of the role that pharmacy can play in building capacity and resilience in primary care.

‘We estimate that, with investment, 2million routine GP contraception appointments could be safely transferred into pharmacies.’

He added: ‘However, this initial phase will only provide enhanced access to a limited number of people.

‘The NHS must rollout the subsequent phases — two, three and four — of this service at pace.’

Pharmacy chiefs also called on the Government to provide ‘the additional funding needed’ to allow chemists across England to participate in the service.

Under the scheme, pharmacists can provide annual checks for the pill by monitoring a patient's weight, height and blood pressure Under the scheme, pharmacists can provide annual checks for the pill by monitoring a patient's weight, height and blood pressure

Under the scheme, pharmacists can provide annual checks for the pill by monitoring a patient’s weight, height and blood pressure

An NHS spokesperson said: ‘The NHS has been in consultation with Goverment and the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee about the potential start of this service which does not include long-term contraception options such as the implant or the coil.’ 

The impact of the pandemic, spiralling drug prices, staff shortages and inflationary pressures has seen the sector plunged into crisis, with hundreds of high street pharmacies under threat of extinction.

The funding package allocated to pharmacies in England — set in 2019 at £5.2bn until 2024 — falls short by £500million according to the community pharmacists’ representative body, Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee.

Read more: ‘Sleepwalking into a disaster within primary care’: Over 1,000 chemists and clinics have shut since 2015, study shows

Meanwhile, Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, told MailOnline: ‘It’s difficult to see how pharmacy can continue to provide these services when the funding is simply removed from the fees for other parts of the service to pay for the training and supply.

‘In addition, the inadequate IT solutions provided by NHS England continue to make the administrative aspects too complex and impact on pharmacists ability to prioritise frontline care to patients.

‘As such we may see continued delays in bringing this service to life at scale.’

Nick Kaye, vice chairman of the National Pharmacy Association, added: ‘Pharmacies are convenient and non-stigmatising places to access sexual and reproductive health services.

‘Most pharmacies have consultation rooms where confidential conversations can take place about safe and effective use of oral contraception and potential side-effects.’

He warned however that ‘the chances of a successful national rollout of the oral contraception service are much reduced by a decade of chronic underfunding which has brought pharmacies across England to their knees’.

Mr Kaye said: ‘Pharmacy owners are being forced to apply their energies to keeping their business afloat, rather than implementing new NHS services.

‘The money for this service is not new — it is being taken from existing pharmacy budgets. Pharmacies are being asked to do more and more work with ever diminishing capacity to deliver patient care.’